The killing of a Yorkshire terrier at the municipal dog park on a Sunday afternoon late last month has some village officials calling for changes to the regulations and enforcement strategies employed at the popular gathering place.
According to police, the terrier was attacked by a much larger dog almost immediately upon entering the park shortly before 3 p.m. Sept. 26. The attacking animal, believed to be a Rottweiler mix, was leashed, but acted so swiftly that its owner was unable to gain control in time, said police.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case, Deputy Police Chief Tom Aftanas said, but the village’s animal administrator is reviewing the incident. Generally, state law allows for animal cruelty or property damage charges when an attack like this occurs, said Aftanas, but in this case such action isn’t warranted.
“There was no intent to kill the dog,” Aftanas said. “The owner of the dog that did this feels terrible about this.”
It is still possible that the dog could be declared a vicious dog under a local ordinance. If that determination is made, the animal could be euthanized. Short of killing the dog, Animal Administrator Dave Wieczorek could ban the animal from entering Forest Park, or impose certain restrictions, such as muzzling or being on a leash at all times.
Wieczorek, who owns an obedience school in Forest Park, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the status of his investigation.
Visitors to the dog park, located at Circle and Lehmer streets, do not have to be residents of Forest Park, but they are required to register with the village. For residents, a license is $10 for the first pet, and for non-residents the fee is $50. According to Aftanas, neither of the pet owners in this case reside in Forest Park and neither had obtained a license to use the park.
Pet owners who do not register their dogs to use the park can be fined $15. The officer handling the case did not issue any citations, said Aftanas, because both pet owners would have to be fined and it would have been insensitive to cite the victims.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian, who holds a seat on the Recreation Board that helps oversee the municipal parks, said there are inherent risks in bringing a pet to a dog park. Fights between the dogs do occur, and occasionally people are bit. In Forest Park, young children are not allowed inside the dog park.
“The key on anything like this, it needs to be reported so we can keep track of what’s going on so we can see if there are any dogs that aren’t social enough to use the park, or are becoming vicious dogs,” Tellalian said.
Enforcing the rules of the dog park is a task left largely to police, who make an effort to visit the park at least once during every morning and afternoon shift. However, according to Aftanas, officers don’t always get there because other calls tend to take priority. The deputy chief said that as a result of this incident, patrols at the park will be stressed.
Tellalian, though, said it’s a bit unreasonable to ask police to monitor the park.
“To me, I view it as a short-term solution because our police department has better things to do than police the dog park,” Tellalian said. “I’ve suggested to the mayor that the fine is not sufficient. A $15 fine is not enough of a deterrent.”
The Recreation Board met Oct. 7 to discuss the incident and formulate a recommendation to the village council. Board member Jerry Webster said before the meeting that he, too, would like to see a stiffer fine for pet owners who fail to register.
According to Aftanas, the fine is often waived if the pet owner agrees to meet certain conditions.
“All we want is people to register their dogs, and control their dogs when they’re at the park,” Aftanas said. “Follow the rules.”